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Less is more: Do some plug-in hybrids offer too much electric range?

You might think that more is always better when it comes to electric driving range, but more range does mean more cost, and it isn’t always easy to determine how much tradeoff is too much.

There is no getting around the fact that electric cars are expensive. The price for all of that technology is said to be one of the main reasons electric cars haven’t become more popular, which is at least partially true. But a consultancy firm known as Carlab is now saying that some of these vehicles are really more expensive than they need to be, according to WardsAuto. This extra cost tends to come from the battery, always an incredibly expensive component of any plug-in vehicle. According to Carlab, the problem is that automakers will pack far more battery capacity into a vehicle than its customers really need, thus creating a price disadvantage for themselves.

The vehicle where this is most obvious is the Chevy Volt, which has a 38-mile pure electric range, much more than any plug-in hybrid currently on the market. Of course, this is because Chevy doesn’t want you to call the Volt a hybrid, they prefer the label of “extended range EV”, and as such, the car needs to offer a lot of pure electric range. Chevy loves finding owners who can share stories about going months between fill-ups. But even if these do make for some great anecdotal evidence, a green image alone will sell only so many cars.

What it comes down to is how long it will take the fuel savings to offset the extra cost. So even if you have to hit the pump once a month with a Prius plug-in and its 11-miles pure electric range instead of once every three months in a Volt, the Prius owner will still be seeing a positive return on their investment sooner, simply by virtue of that investment being so much lower. That said, for those who want to drive as much as possible in electric mode without the inconvenience of range anxiety, the Volt is still the best way to go. With 2013 seeing a variety of different plug-ins being offered, with a wide range of battery capacities, this year’s plug-in sales trends will be watched very closely and will likely determine the direction the industry developments follow.

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